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DAWN - Opinion; July 19, 2006

July 19, 2006


Need to seal Afghan border

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

IT may seem out of place to be writing about Afghanistan at the end of a week which has seen such major developments as the Israeli bombing of Beirut, continued Israeli aggression in Gaza and the inability of the Iraqi government to curb the spiralling cycle of violence in Baghdad. Closer to home there have been the Mumbai train blasts, and in Karachi, the killing of the revered Allama Hassan Turabi by a suicide bomber.

But these developments and the emotions of Islamic solidarity they arouse make a cold blooded analysis of the Afghan situation even more necessary. In this way we can take decisions that minimise the costs to Pakistan and give our policymakers the room they need to tackle domestic and regional problems.

In last week’s column I had offered the view that given the present level of military and economic assistance and President Hamid Karzai’s inability to provide good governance or to remove unsavoury people from positions of power, Afghanistan would continue to be wracked by violence and instability for many years. A report by the former US commander of forces in Afghanistan, General (retd) Barry R. McCaffrey, seems to confirm this bleak assessment.

In his view, “The Afghan national leadership are collectively terrified that we will tip-toe out of Afghanistan in the coming few years — leaving Nato holding the bag — and the whole thing will again collapse into mayhem. They do not believe the United States has made a strategic commitment to stay with them for the 15 years required to create an independent, functional nation-state which can survive in this dangerous part of the world.”

He recognises that “there seem to be neither US resources nor political will to equip these ANA (Afghan National Army) battalions to rapidly replace us as the first line counterinsurgency force”, and strongly suggests that this army and police force should consist of 70,000 to 100,000 troops within 18 month, and should not be an anaemic force of 50,000 soldiers. He feels that “A well equipped, disciplined, multi-ethnic, literate, and trained Afghan National Army is our ticket to be fully out of the country in the year 2020.” Is this likely to happen? Probably not, given the resistance in Nato to even the present level of commitment and anxiety of the Pentagon to pull troops out of Afghanistan.

He absolves the Pakistan army of the many sins laid at its door by the Afghan government and the western media, maintaining that “I do not believe that President Musharraf is playing a deliberate double game. Pakistan is four nations in one weak and violent state. The Pakistan army is the only load-bearing institution holding the nation together. The army provides the only corps of high-integrity societal leadership (in general — and certainly when compared to civilian political elites). There is absolutely no way that the army is serving as a dupe while fielding 15 battalions in severe combat in Fata — battalions which have suffered hundreds of casualties (while presenting a picture of both courage and embarrassing ineffectiveness). The ISI is the army. The Frontier Police are the army. The senior state and national police leadership and much economic business is the army.”

In his view “the real problem is that the Duran (sic) Line marking the border does not exist. The Pashtuns and others are not primarily Afghans or Pakistanis — they are ferociously conservative, ignorant, hostile, black turban, black baggy pants guys — with AK47s and an aversion to infidels and national government. They move back and forth from Quetta to Khandahar (sic) to fight and live — and have for decades. The Pakistanis barely control five per cent of Balochistan. They do not control most of Fata. They fear the increasing radicalisation of their frontier. Afghanistan does not control anything except parts of Kabul most of the time. Both nations are consumed by nationalistic hatred of the other state.”

He advocates that “The US should consider actively supporting a concept of fencing and putting barriers along selected areas of the Afghan-Pakistan border to constrain movement of the many, many armed groups moving back and forth across the frontier.”

While there is much that can be questioned in this assessment and recommendation, the frightening part is the assumption that the Pakistanis, controlling only five per cent of Balochistan, can do little to prevent cross border movement of those who are assumed to owe little loyalty to either Pakistan or Afghanistan. I disagree. Our institutional machinery has broken down. Such of it as exists is under the wrong sort of political pressure in both Balochistan and the Frontier. There is public sympathy for the Taliban in both provinces fuelled no doubt by the sort of developments that I have mentioned in the beginning of this column. But these adverse factors notwithstanding, we still have the strength in what is a military government to prove McCaffrey wrong.

We must deploy this strength against the Taliban and other foreign forces that threaten our social fabric and our vision of “enlightened moderation”, and use political methods to seek a solution to the insurgency problem created by our own nationals in Balochistan and Fata and which leads McCaffrey to assume that the government controls only five per cent of Balochistan and perhaps no higher percentage of the tribal areas.

This will, of course, require us to recognise that the principal contributor to the global perception of Pakistan, as a “weak and violent state” flows from the damage that has been done to our social fabric by the presence of Afghan refugees and their extremist leaders and the role they have played in our domestic polity.

According to the UN, there are still 2.6 million Afghans in Pakistan. The UN had earlier estimated that in 2006 some 600,000 would return from Pakistan and Iran to Afghanistan. So far only 103,000 in Pakistan have done so and it seems unlikely that there will be any substantial increase in the near future. On the contrary, many observers, seeing the long lines outside the Iranian and Pakistani embassy and consulates, believe that lack of economic opportunities is forcing many Afghans to migrate once again to Pakistan and Iran. UN officials also acknowledge, according to some reports, that the reluctance of refugees to return to Afghanistan is owed not to security concerns but to economic factors.

For Pakistan, however, their presence is a security concern. Why can’t the Pakistan government insist that the refugee camps be shifted from Pakistan to Afghanistan? The government can offer to provide whatever assistance the UN officials need to keep these camps supplied with food and other necessities, but then the coalition forces and ANA and the Afghan police would face the problem of these camps being used by forces inimical to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I have noted that Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, in making a suggestion of this nature, estimated that a sum of $4-5 billion would be needed to rehabilitate these refugees in Afghanistan, but that should be the joint responsibility of all members of the international community and should not be a reason for not shifting the camps to the Afghan side of the border.

McCaffrey may be exaggerating when he suggests that the government controls only five per cent of Balochistan but there can be no doubt if reports from the region are to be believed that Chaman, Pishin and a number of other border points are under the control of the Taliban, many of them of Afghan nationality. Once the Afghan refugees are removed the restoration of control by the local administration will be easier.

There is also the problem of trafficking across the porous border. This year the goods to be trafficked will include opium of which a record crop is expected in Afghanistan. What this can mean for Pakistan and Iran is evident from a recent report from Iran where Dr Mehdi Gooya, the chief of the disease management centre of the Iranian health ministry, disclosed that Iran has 3.7 million drug users of whom 2.5 million were addicts. In the late 1980s, it was calculated that Pakistan had some 2.5 million drug users. One can be almost certain that since then this number has gone up. The record crop will probably push the price down and give a fresh impetus to drug use in Pakistan unless measures are taken to stop the flow from Afghanistan by sealing the border as far as possible.

Our government has repeatedly emphasised that sealing the long border is not feasible. This is true but the fact is that much of the traffic takes place across the manned check points which are conveniently located. Greasing the palm of immigration and customs officials permits the easy, frictionless passage of illicit trafficking of both human beings and goods. Perhaps it is time to consider granting officials posted on the border special allowances to compensate for the hardship they suffer and to ensure that those who turn a blind eye to smuggling after these allowances are given draconian punishments.

Most observers agree that the presence of the Taliban in Pakistan and across the border has given an impetus to extremism here. Now it seems that even the Karzai government is moving in that direction. The Afghan parliament is set in the next few weeks to consider a proposal put forward by their ministry of religious affairs to resurrect the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice that the Taliban had set up.

The fact that such retrograde measures are being considered will be detrimental to the interests of the Afghan people and will also have adverse repercussions across the border unless we take measures to insulate ourselves from such influences. This requires us to seek the return of the Afghan refugees to their homeland and to seal the border with Afghanistan as effectively as possible.

If and when stability is restored in Afghanistan there will be tremendous advantages to both countries as a transit route for South Asia’s trade with Central Asia. For the moment, Pakistan’s need is to insulate itself from the pernicious traffic that flows from that country into Pakistan. An added advantage of such an effort at insulation will be to make far less plausible the allegations that the Taliban in Quetta are directing anti-government operations in Afghanistan. Getting rid of this burden will do much to improve our image abroad, which the government says is one of its cherished goals.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Have a heart

By Hafizur Rahman

I SHALL never forget the shocking sight I saw some 20 years ago in a middle class suburb of Lahore. As I passed that way a small crowd had gathered to watch a man thrashing a boy of 12 years who had been completely stripped of his clothes. The boy was crying, more in anguish than in pain, while the crowd was asking the man to let him go.

The man was the boy’s father and was giving a beating to him with a shoe and constantly asking him, “Will you do it again? Will you ignore what I order you to do?” He had informed the sympathetic crowd that the punishment was for wilful disobedience, and the boy was getting it in the nude so that he should feel duly ashamed.

Of course there was no cause for the father to feel ashamed of what he was doing. To a couple of bystanders who had questioned the propriety of this way of castigating the poor boy, he had already asserted his right to do so by saying, “He is my son. I will do with him what I please. You people mind your own business.”

It did not occur to the tyrannical father that the boy did have his self-respect. Most people think it’s only grown-ups who have that attribute. A father’s self-esteem is wounded when a boy does not do his bidding and dares to stand up before his order. Most adults do not credit children with self-esteem or independence of opinion on any matter nor do they think they are sensitive enough to feel the mental effects of a bashing in front of other people.

Once upon a time the biggest field of corporal punishment used to be boys’ schools, whether they were European or indigenous. Thank God, over the decades some kind of enlightenment has descended on our education system, caning and other forms of body torture have been prohibited. In fact a teacher can now be penalised if he takes such as liberty with a boy by the latter’s male elders if not by the authorities.

I suppose now the only institutions which still believe that to spare the rod is to spoil the child are the deeni madaris. They have sprouted like mushrooms all over Pakistan in the recent past. Either there is a genuine desire for religious education among the lower middle class or maybe this class is not able to send its children to ordinary schools, I can’t really say. In these madaris of course the writ of the education authorities does not hold good.

Apart from the normal thrashing and other physical penalties, young boys have been known to be kept in fetters. But that is not the doing of the madaris: it’s the boys’ parents (or should one say fathers) who are responsible for this. The intention apparently is to stop the poor chaps from running away. Whether our religious leaders like this or not, the fact remains that very few boys want to give up the exciting modern atmosphere of regular schools to join the dry-as-dust deeni madaris with their ancient concept of discipline and absence of English lessons. The basic reason can only be poverty.

Coming back for a moment to the horrific incident with which I opened this piece, I recall my immediate reaction that, apart from causing pain it was inhuman to subject that boy to insult and degradation through the shoe-beating inflicted on his naked body in public. One is really amazed at the lengths that some fathers go to in order to assert their parenthood and proprietorship over their children in the smug satisfaction that they are improving upon God’s work by moulding their personality through such ruthless behaviour.

But then, they are probably too crude and insensitive to realise the consequences. Their only consideration is to appease their own ego which is wounded by a son’s open revolt and disobedience. They are at best psychological cases and are transforming their sons into psychological cases, too. I shudder to think what must be going on in the boy’s mind if he were overcome by a desire to avenge this indignity.

Some boys who have been fed on this kind of brutal discipline instead of an affectionate regard for their problems, turn wayward on growing up and sometimes even resort to violence against father or mother. When that happens, it is society and bad company that is blamed by the parents who conveniently forget their own contribution to shaping their sons’ personality. “We gave him the best of everything and yet he is turning into a criminal. God knows what sin we have committed to earn this fate,” they cry out in despair.

What makes the whole system of penalising children, especially boys, into a travesty of decency and fairness is the fact that the poor things are helpless victims. If they resist that infliction of punishment it is taken as another sign of indiscipline and invited further retribution. God knows what it is that makes self-styled loving father into violent despots.

Unfortunately this tendency is not confined to boys’ fathers; some employers too take it upon themselves to “correct” juvenile servants through physical violence. A police case of wanton cruelty which ended in the death of a young domestic servant is still pending against a male teacher of Islamabad’s most fashionable school. And yet this man was employed in a school where if he were to administer even a playful slap to a boy he would have suffered at the hands of an angry father, apart from probably losing his job.

I was never the father of a son. If I were I don’t think I would even have slapped him for wrong behaviour. But I understand the worries of parents about sons who are a problem in one way or another. However I do not recall any case in which it could be asserted with certainty that affection and understanding would have failed to bring about an improvement in the mental make-up of recalcitrant boys.

In addition to a distorted sense of parental discipline, small boys working in lowly establishments like motor workshops and roadside eating places are invariably subjected to violence of this kind, and in many cases, their employers have been given the licence by their fathers. It is through words to the effect that “If he doesn’t work, you have my permission to beat him up. That is the only way to keep such boys in order.” But what can you do to such inconsiderate fathers and heartless employers when even the government finds itself helpless in controlling child labour despite its laws?

What next in Balochistan?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ISLAMABAD knows the art of messing up situations that could be used to its advantage. Take the case of Balochistan. Backward, under-developed and impoverished, Pakistan’s largest province has been reduced to that state by the sardars who have ruled it for ages without doing anything for the uplift of their people.

They themselves received hefty sums from the Pakistan government. All the federal government had to do was to pump in development funds and reach out to the people directly who would then have responded by standing on their own feet and marginalising the feudal leadership.

What did the Pakistan government do instead? It joined hands with the sardars to crush the people. Now that it has fallen out with the sardars, who are not satisfied with what they have been receiving, Islamabad finds itself between the devil and the deep sea. The sardars are angry and the people are alienated. The tribal chiefs have given the people a sense of honour and pride that they cherish and thus cleverly enlisted their support against Islamabad. On the contrary, the federal government has attacked the Baloch where it hurts them most. It has tried to humiliate them and rob them of their self-esteem.

The polarisation is acute and there is total deadlock. Now it is too late for Islamabad to blame the sardars because in the conflict that is taking place the sardars are posing as the champions of the people’s rights for whom they have taken up arms. Since the people are suffering casualties and loss of property and homes at the hands of the Pakistan army, they have turned to the sardars for protection.

Now Pakistan will perforce have to deal with the sardars as representatives of the Baloch people. Attempts to drive a wedge between them have failed in the present circumstances. More dangerous has been Islamabad’s strategy of using force to put down the Baloch and making them toe the federal government’s line. This has alienated them further.

Another unwise move by Islamabad has been to slam the door on a political settlement and insist on adopting a military approach. The Baloch nationalists are described as “miscreants”, “terrorists” and “fararis” who have to be decimated. With the army taking a broad swipe at the Baloch fighters, it is inevitable that “collateral” damage is massive and innocent civilians — men, women and children — are being killed in large numbers.

This is further alienating the people. In the last week or so, the government claimed that nearly 50 “militants” had been killed. But who are the militants? Whether they are members of the Baloch Liberation Army, a shadowy outfit that has no clearly defined command structure, or other militias who make their presence felt through acts of subversion, the fact is that innocent civilians are also being killed. The truth will never be known because the reports are one-sided and emanate from the army sources. Independent reporting speaks of the tragedy of the common man who has been caught in the crossfire.

Now the government is pretending to do what it should have done a long time ago. It has retrieved the report of the Mushahid Hussain parliamentary subcommittee from the dusty shelf to which it was consigned in June 2005 when it was presented to the government. Unfortunately this belated move amounts to conceding too little too late. More than a year later, when so much ill-feeling has been created, the government has reverted to the recommendations made in the report to see what can be done to alleviate the grievances of the Baloch. But probably more than that is needed now.

The president and the prime minister have been reiterating that the recommendations of the subcommittee are being implemented. Mr Shaukat Aziz even said that 30 proposals have already been implemented. He chose not to be specific about which recommendations had been put into effect. Various government functionaries keep reminding us that thousands of jobs have been created and a lot of development work has been undertaken. But have these changed the lives of the people in any way? It would be a useful exercise if the government would let the people, and specifically the Baloch, know serial wise every recommendation and the status of its implementation in detail. This would help clarify the government’s own thinking.

There are some recommendations that touch at the heart of the Baloch grievances and sense of alienation. We need to be informed more about their implementation. These are listed below:

— After rationalisation of gas revenue receipts for Balochistan the district or agency from which gas/oil is being produced should be given at least 15 per cent of the revenue received by the provincial government in this regard.

— Maximum representation should be given to the province on the boards of PPL, OGDC, Sui Southern immediately.

— Five per cent of the total expenditure of an exploration company awarded concession in an area shall be spent on social welfare projects, whereas companies which are successful in striking gas/oil should be bound to spend five per cent of their pre-tax profit on social welfare projects.

— The job quota of 5.4 per cent under the constitution for Balochistan should be strictly implemented in all federal ministries, divisions, corporations and department. — A judicial enquiry be conducted by a high powered judicial commission ... to probe the settlement and allotment of government lands in Gwadar district.

— The NFC award, which has been delayed unnecessarily should be announced giving due consideration to the just viewpoint of the people of Balochistan.

— The unnecessary presence of FC coastguards on the roads in the interior of the province are disliked by the people of Balochistan while also creating hatred since women and children are humiliated at check points. It is recommended that both these agencies should work in their jurisdiction.

— ... the Levies should be trained on the pattern of the police and provided with the requisite logistics. (At present the Levies control the “B” areas which present 95 per cent of the land mass and where crime is better controlled while the police control “A” areas).

— A special task force may be constituted by the federal government ... to ensure implementation of these recommendations within 90 days.

These are sensitive issues and many, if implemented, would serve to restore the confidence of the Baloch. It may also be recalled that another subcommittee under Waseem Sajjad was to study the issue of autonomy. There were some stray reports about the work it was doing — including the slashing down of the Concurrent List in the Constitution — but nothing came to light.

But before the implementation process is undertaken, Islamabad will have to bring the Baloch leadership to the negotiating table. That is possible only if the government holds out an olive branch to the Baloch nationalists. This calls for an end to the war of words followed by a truce, even if a temporary one. The initiative will have to come from Islamabad as it is the senior partner in this process. Branding the Baloch terrorists — even though they have been targeting strategic installations and not humans — has not helped.

The prime minister declared the other day that amnesty can be given to the Baloch. Why not? The president has reiterated a similar stance. This is not a message of reconciliation which is the need of the hour. The loss of East Pakistan in 1971 was a tragedy that could have been avoided only if the military leadership of the time had displayed some political instincts. Pakistan is not ready for a re-enactment of that drama in the context of Balochistan.

Wiretap surrender

US SENATE Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter has cast his agreement with the White House on legislation concerning the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance as a compromise — one in which President Bush accepts judicial review of the programme.

It isn’t a compromise, except quite dramatically on the senator’s part. Mr Specter’s bill began as a flawed but well-intentioned effort to get the programme in front of the courts, but it has been turned into a green light for domestic spying. It must not pass.

The bill would, indeed, get the NSA’s programme in front of judges, in one of two ways. It would transfer lawsuits challenging the programme from courts around the country to the super-secret court system that typically handles wiretap applications in national security cases. It would also permit — but not require — the administration to seek approval from this court system, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for entire surveillance programmes, thereby allowing judges to assess their legality.

But the cost of this judicial review would be ever so high. The bill’s most dangerous language would effectively repeal FISA’s current requirement that all domestic national security surveillance take place under its terms. It would also, in various places, insert Congress’s acknowledgment that the president may have inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans.

—The Washington Post